September 15, 2023
Osher at CMU Profile: Jim Reitz, written by Marlene Parrish
In certain traditions and cultures, it is believed that everyone has a spirit animal. The person shares or embodies the spirit’s characteristics, and the spirit helps to guide and to protect their person on life’s journey. If Jim Reitz has a spirit animal, it certainly must be an Australian Shepherd; the dogs are intelligent, even-tempered, social and nurturing working animals. The dogs never seek the spotlight, but love spending time leading and bonding with their herds, their families. Sound like him? You decide.
Jim Reitz was born and raised on a small 160 acre farm three miles from a tiny town in Iowa. How tiny? Population, 360 residents. He attended a one-room schoolhouse for eight years where the teacher taught every grade, after arriving early enough to light the furnace to get the room warmed up. After school came the farm chores. “I’m grateful for the experience of working seven days a week,” Jim says. “We knew our jobs, and we knew our animals —dairy cows, hogs, chickens. And we went to church. The Methodist church.”
If the child is the father of the man, then those childhood experiences— the farm, strong family ties, the teachings of the church — followed Jim for life.
“I always thought I would go to college, but I had no idea what to do in life,” Jim remembers. “So when a friend picked a school and a major, I picked the same ones. Bad idea. I flunked out of Iowa State College. Flunked! I went back home thinking I wasn’t college material.”
But his innate leadership and thirst for learning swept him along without anyone telling him what to do. Long story short, Jim went on to university to earn a bachelor’s as well as a master’s degree in sociology. Even though the faculty voted to accept him into a PhD program, he chose to earn a second master's degree, this time in theology. The real world followed.
“I’ve never applied for a job in my life,” Jim exclaims. “People have aways come to me saying, ‘Jim, we need your skills. Will you take this on?’ ” In a long career in social work and compassionate deeds helping those in need, he was recruited to be a director of this agency, the president of that, the leader of this committee, the chair of that board. He was also a husband and the father of a growing family of four children. He was pastor of a church.
By the 1980s, and single again, Jim found himself in Pittsburgh. And he was at a fork in the road. “I left the Methodist ministry,” he said. “But I expect to be in ministry the rest of my life, just not from the pulpit.”
He found his new church home in The First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh where he’s been a member for 38 years. There, he met second wife, Mary, now deceased. She was very involved in CMU’s Osher program and she urged Jim to join. And did he ever. Once he became an active member in Osher programs, you can guess what happened. He has taken his turns as class ambassador, participant and leader of just about all the committees, co-taught several classes and he has taken, by recent count, almost 150 classes.
Jim served as President of the Osher board from 2018 until 2020 and was the immediate past president between 2021 and 2023. He was also chair of the Nominating Committee numerous times, on the 4.0 Design Committee and was the initial chair of the 4.0 Capital Campaign. He also served on the lecture committee for a period of time and was always there to lend a hand and voice whenever needed. His dedication to Osher embodies the ideal member.
Jim has always been involved in athletics from his high school teams from participating to officiating. But more than anything, he’s been running for 45 years. He ties his laces with PWRD (People Who Run Downtown), where he is a 29 year veteran. “We meet and run every Tuesday night, 52 weeks a year, regardless of how hot or cold it is, rain or snow,” says Jim. “We run a short route maybe four to six miles and then end up at a restaurant and eat together. I never miss, unless I am out of town. It keeps these 87-years-old legs strengthened, my circulation and aerobic systems tuned up.” Must be true, since the “old man” has completed 27 marathons.
He finds time to visit the patients one night a week at Family Hospice in Lawrenceville. Because he’s a listener, his kindness, empathy and compassion have helped many, many people in their end days.
“There are a lot of ways people seek pleasure,” says Jim. “I have found that there is no greater pleasure than helping an individual or group. Efforts to assist my church, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the Family hospice and individuals I encounter during the week provide me substantial pleasure. It’s kind of selfish, knowing that I ALWAYS receive back more than I am ever able to give.”
Any vestiges of the farm boy from long ago, you ask? When Jim moved from his house to an apartment a year or so ago, he had extra wide sills installed on his south-facing windows. He needed a place to tend a dozen potted plants. Small farm, but still.